Pittsburgh Years

Make It Go Away






n October, driving along the minor artery of New York State Route 240, one is surrounded by a vast forest, now in a blaze of color.  Only a little green remains; today there were mostly yellows, oranges, and bright reds, and all their tinctures, in overwhelming profusion.  The woods is populated mainly by deer, turkey, rabbit and a great variety of other even-legged or scaled creatures, mostly small ones.  Some few flitter about the branches above, but most of this sort are busy right now practicing form­ation-flying for the upcoming journey south.

The Erie and the Seneca Indians, satellite tribes of the dominant and fearsome Iroquois collective, to which all this richness and beauty, flora and fauna, once belonged, are now few.  And those who remain no longer concentrate on game anyway.  Gaming is their game now.  This new enterprise has made them relatively prosperous, for the first time since the ancestors of the white women and men here now—sitting mesmerized in front of the electronic games—arrived unannounced on the shore of the great water, many days to the east. 

In the late 1960s, one could turn casually from Route 240 onto a certain small road near West Valley, a little New York town spraddled across West Valley road.  On this road, even more enchanted by the scenery, one could drive deep into the woods until, densely surrounded by nature, it would seem that this was all there was left in the world.  Just off this small lane, had one bothered to look, was an even smaller, unmarked, narrow striping of asphalt, hardly a road at all.  Glancing that way, one might have noticed a small, nondescript, but not unimportant, little structure some ways deeper into the woods.  But, unmarked as it was, it had probably remained unseen as it was passed.  I certainly didn’t notice it.  Continuing a little farther along, this pleasant drive would be abruptly terminated.  Substantial and peculiar structures, the purpose of which would have been quite unknowable, blocked the way.

The State of New York, The Empire State—deservedly so termed—owns all these strange structures: some are filled with green pools of water, and there are large stainless steel tanks, odd mechanical devices and much other extraordinary paraphernalia.  The state also owns the thousands of acres of woods that surround all this strangeness concealed so inoffensively within this forest.  The particular empire-building that the state had in mind here was a new project, very new.  An uncharted endeavor was being attempted here.

The United States of America, in a burst of then-understandable naiveté, was going nuclear.  Atomic power stations were taking root all over the country.  But there was a problem, and that problem was the source of the opportunity sensed by the Empire State.  Unfortu­nately, some 40 or 50 years later, a disappointing span of time, this challenge remains: what in the world to do with the nuclear waste of all those power plants?

Though the facilities’ are still there—and will be for a very, very long while—this new empire remains unconquered to this day; and day after day, all over the country, the nuclear waste is still increasing, even though the power plants themselves now no longer increase in number.  As this is being written, attention is refocusing on this project, and nuclear power, that pariah, is beginning to show a new, and greener, face.  But the fundamental problem, the nuclear waste, still awaits resolution.

In the late sixties and early seventies, the Empire State contracted with a private company, Nuclear Fuel Services, Inc., which at that time was a wholly owned subsidiary of the Getty Oil Company, and they, in turn, had enlisted my company, Blaw-Knox’s Chemical Plants Division, to help with the effort here in the woods.  Both chemistry and structural engineering were part of the puzzle.  The project was as political as it was physical; immediately after World War Two, as the optimism over nuclear energy had grown, nearly unchallenged, it gradually became worrisome.  In its place came fright and dire warnings of tragedies to come.  A vast regulatory organization, the Atomic Energy Commission which was, after some time, to be renamed the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, was formed.  Ironically, its mission was then, and is now, both to promote nuclear power and to control it.

Sometime after I had made this pleasant drive, I found out that the innocuous little structure that had been passed-by quite unnoticed on my way in along the small road through the woods was called by the cognoscenti that were stationed at the plant, simply, and in a humorous irony of understatement, the Plutonium Shed.  The irony was that in this simple ‘shed’, then quite unguarded, was the largest fraction of our planet’s current supply of usable plutonium, much more valuable per kilo than cocaine or, for that matter, than gold.

Text Box:  
Plutonium Button
Though plutonium is natural, in the sense that the big bang scattered some around the then-small universe (though it did so rather niggardly), it is the most unnatural of natural metals: its potency—for nuclear weapons—reducing itself constantly as it wantonly casts off its radiation.  The entire natural portion of this material allotted to Planet Earth is by now so weakened by this frivolity as to be quite useless for the macabre task that we have assigned to this metal, and so it had to be ‘discovered’ once again, this time by bombarding its close relative, uranium, with neutrons in a cyclotron, thus hyping it up.

Text Box:  
Glenn T Seaborg
at the Geiger Counter 
Glenn T. Seaborg played a dual role in this empire building of nuclear power:  He was both the lead scientist of the team that “discovered” plutonium (and was awarded a Nobel prize for doing it) and then, later, he was the chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission, the group intended to control it.

Within the Actinoid group of the Periodic Table of Elements, those elements that immediately follow Uranium (U), are called by physicists the Transuranic elements.  They are named after the planets that follow after Uranus in their neatly ordered orbits around our sun.  So, following Neptunium (Np), the next element up the table from Uranium (U) would naturally have been named Plutium, for what was then thought to be the outermost planet, Pluto (it has now been downgraded and lacks planetary status).  But Seaborg didn’t like the name Plutium so he named his newly generated element Plutonium instead, which he thought sounded better, and Text Box:  
Periodic Table of the Elements 
then, for a few laughs at the lab, he designated the material (Pu) in the table, (since the elemental abbreviation (P) had already been taken by Phosphorus).

Ultimately, Seaborg was even more deeply embedded in history books by having a later-discovered transuranic element, Seaborgium (Sg), named after him.  We had quite run out of planets by then. 

Plutonium, which gives off a rather mild radiation that will not penetrate your skin (though if particles of it get inside your body, by inhalation for example, it will do very nasty things to you—before it kills you) has several uses beyond destruction, but not many:  A small pellet of it was used in early pacemakers as a battery (as a current pacemaker user, I can well appreciate that—my battery’s of lithium and lasts only five years; those of plutonium last a great deal longer but are no longer made); it has been used in various spacecraft for the generation of electricity; and today it can be used in a somewhat neutered form called MOX as a radioactive source for new fuel rods for nuclear reactors.  In this service the aim now is as much to get rid of the always-accumulating plutonium as it is to power a reactor—we don’t want it falling into the wrong hands.

As head of the Atomic Energy Commission, many critics said at the time that Seaborg’s role was remarkably close to that of a fox guarding a henhouse.  He was a relentless advocate of nuclear power yet seemingly played on each side of the conflict, a balancing act intended to appease both those who wished to utilize it and the side that wanted to thwart its use, or at the very least to constrain it as tightly as possible.

The facility at West Valley, New York, was the first-ever commercial, nuclear fuel reprocessing plant in the country—and the only one that has ever operated.  Others were built later but they, knotted-up by the political process, were abandoned before they were put to use.

This inherent tension was battled to a climax at this very site, in these beautiful woods, a place where historians can still hear the gunshots of the many battles of another sort that had been fought here in the mid 1700s by the French and the English, with the Indians as an acquisitive flux between them.  The Indians were generally apolitical on the matter; we were foreigners to them after all, but it seems that they liked the French just a little better than the English, but they liked the prices and quality of the English goods even more.  History is written in the language of economy.

The various structures and equipment constructed here in New York functioned generally in this way:

·         Spent fuel rods from nuclear reactors were shipped here by truck from nuclear reactors around the country in a heavy, specially designed, protective cask.

·         A crane lifted the cask from the truck and submerged it in a cask-unloading-pool that would safely cover the cask with water which (more or less) protected the plant’s operators from radiation.  Now under water, the cask’s cover was opened by remotely operated equipment.

·         Its contents, a bunch of individual spent-fuel rods, were handled remotely and deposited temporarily, with others that were already there, in a large rack which spaced them out uniformly.  This rack itself was also in a very large and deep, holding pool of water.  The rack kept the rods sufficiently separated from each other so that, with the moderation provided by the water molecules, they would not go super-critical and melt, and the water of the pool continued to shield the rods’ radioactivity from plant personal (the rods, though ‘spent’ in a power-generative, economical sense (they no longer had enough zip), remained lethally radioactive to people).

·         Over time, these fuel rods were taken, one by one, from the pool by remotely operated mechanical equipment to a shielded, humanly-inaccessible place where they were robotically chopped up into pieces by a large shear, and then these small pieces were dissolved in acid.

·         The then-valuable plutonium—we still wanted more bombs—which had magically appeared in the rods, a natural byproduct of the nuclear reaction, was separated out for nuclear warheads.  This byproduct was stored in the innocuous little plutonium shed for later shipment out west to the places where the bombs were constructed.

·         The acid solvent, now at quite a high level of radioactivity, was then pumped into large, cooled, stainless steel storage tanks (cooled so that they wouldn’t heat up, melt, and spill their guts).  The thought was that the contents would soon cool down enough so that something further—that something still unknown—could then be done with this highly radioactive acid (several schemes were under active consideration, the most likely choice: encapsulating them in glass).

All of the structures and equipment that enabled this transmogrification of the spent fuel rods from solid to liquid had been designed—and their initial construction had been supervised—by the Bechtel Corporation a very large Engineering and Construction firm headquartered in San Francisco.  At the time of its design and construction, some years back, radioactivity was well understood and its dangers were known.  The steps in the process carefully reflected this knowledge.  But nuclear fission did not then have the forbidding aspect that it was later to acquire; it was simply thought of then as similar to an airplane: complex and potentially dangerous, but something that could be managed by the thorough and proper application of physics.  It was viewed then as a routine engineering challenge.  But the forces arrayed against such a straightforward view of the matter were assembling quickly.

Questions were now beginning to be asked about outré things that had not been considered in the original design of these structures that had already been built:  What would happen if an earthquake struck, or a tornado?  What would happen if a tornado blew a telephone pole or, for that matter, a Volkswagen Beetle, into the structure at a significant velocity?  The rules were changing but the original structures still stood there placidly.

Nuclear Fuel Services, seeing the handwriting on the wall, and footing the ever-growing research bill, was nevertheless, like The Empire State, keenly aware of the potential of this new and powerful technology and, in particular, of the growing backlog of spent fuel rods steadily outgrowing their temporary storage pools at reactor sites all around the country.  It must have seemed like a sure thing, no matter the money it would cost; something had to be done with these hot potatoes, and more of them were being baked every day.

NFS had hired Blaw-Knox to figure out what needed to be done to the structures, and to the process, to bring them into compliance with the new rules emanating every day, like mortar shells, from the Atomic Energy Commission, in Washington.  The mortar shells were being passed to the commission by the numerous political forces arrayed on the anti-nuclear side of the issue.  

Blaw-Knox was attracted by the same magnetic pull to this new technology that seemed then to have such a bright and sure future.  So in spite of their own near-meltdown at the Shippingport project some years past, they had got their nerve back up and were once more in the game.  One of the reasons for this newfound courage may have been that the Blaw-Knox Chemical Plants Division had by then been bought by a company named White Consolidated Industries, a sewing machine company of all things, and a virgin in this tantalizing new field.

There was a trend at that time in business for companies to consolidate.  It was driven by the business school notion that if a company could collect and manage a sufficient number of companies, in completely different markets, that their exposure would be mitigated; one market segment might go belly-up but the company as a whole would survive.  It was a strategy of diversification.  And the management of one sort of company did not seem to these MBAs essentially different than the management of another sort of company.  Management was management.  Not a completely irrational notion but, as time has passed, it seems to have been proven wrong. 

In one sense earthquakes are predictable; we know where the plates are, mostly in coastal areas and, in the United States, especially on the West Coast.  In another sense they’re very unpredictable; of the biggest earthquakes, ever, in the United States, the strongest of these, 8.1 on the Richter scalepretty damned strong—happened in New Madrid, Missouri, smack dab in the middle of the country, in the winter of 1811 – 1812 and, surprisingly, quite serious earthquakes and tornadoes have occurred in New York State as well.

As to tornadoes, I well remember one day in our brand-new 40 story office building in Pittsburgh when very strong winds, yet well shy of tornado force, made the building sway so noticeably that we were all told to leave.  On the way out, standing in the elevator lobby on the 28th floor waiting for an elevator, a crowd of us were shocked when a very long diagonal crack suddenly, and noisily, appeared in the wall we were facing.  Knowing that buildings like this were designed to sway, I was not as worried as the others, but…

Willy Reasner, the captain of our growing structural team for the West Valley Nuclear Fuel Services project, considered numerous, and unusual solutions to the new problems being continually presented: reinforcing the structure with steel beams and then tying them down with cables, as though the structure had been a rather stocky radio tower was one.  Other similarly weird solutions were considered.

All of this far-out (and expensive) thinking was being done within the context of ordinary Statics, the kind of design that structural engineers deal with every day.  Dynamic loads such as wind and earthquakes are a much more difficult engineering challenge than Statics, where things are supposed to hold still.  But this challenge is ordinarily finessed by converting dynamical forces into equivalent (and more forceful) static loads, and proceeding normally.  And there are recognized ways to do this even though there are large approximations involved.  For most ordinary structures this doesn’t matter much; the structures are built stronger than they otherwise would have been, but it is not a big deal.  The difficulty here was that the structures were already built. 

The reason for this hesitancy to jump into dynamics was that, without computers, true dynamic analysis of common structures is practically impossible.  Computers then were only beginning to be used for structural analysis which these several new problems clearly called for: Earth­quakes and tornadoes, unlike steady, old gravity, shake and blow things around willy-nilly.  At Blaw-Knox no one seemed anxious to get started in computers because none of this had been taught in the schools they had attended; it was all new, just being developed in the most advanced companies, such as Bechtel and Fluor.  Obvious­ly Bechtel was the company that ought to have been hired for this work, since they had designed the structures in the first place, but for some reason—probably cost—Bechtel had not been asked to do it; Getty Oil Company was cheap and they did not yet understand the magnitude of the problems they faced.

To top it all off, the IBM 360–40 that Blaw-Knox had leased, largely for accounting, had been sent back to IBM, one of the first cost-cutting measures that White Consolidated had imposed on our company after they had bought it.  It was thought that the limited use that was being made of computers at Blaw Knox then did not warrant that level of investment.  The accounting tasks had been subcontracted to a company called ADP, a company that was then owned by IBM, yet there was a small sub-department of our division’s Project Management Department which had used the old computer system for a rather arcane specialty: the scheduling of projects.  For these people, in lieu of a computer, a “terminal” had been installed in their office.  It was one that used a standard telephone line to a large data center in far off St. Louis, Missouri.  It was the McDonnell Douglas Automation Company’s (nicknamed simply McAuto). 

What was then called a terminal was not similar to those devices that we think of as monitors today.  This one (leased from IBM) looked more like a small mainframe computer, and it took up a medium-sized room.  But it did not need the special cooling or the fire protection required for mainframe computers.  It had a card reader, a line printer.  A modem (modulator-demodulator) handled the transmissions over a phone line to and from the large array of mainframe computers in St. Louis (and it did this at the then dazzling speed of 300 baud, roughly 30 characters a second—which we thought was pretty hot stuff).

We had to tell Nuclear Fuel Services that there was probably no way that these structures, even crazily reinforced, could withstand the newly specified loads that the Atomic Energy Commission had now mandated—at least for the kind of money they were thinking about.  So, at this point, something of a hiatus in the project occurred.   They apparently mulled over this quandary for a few weeks.  Then, because the alternatives were so dire, and the opportunity cost, thus to be forgone, remained so dominant in their business minds, they came back and told us that there had to be a way and that we should redouble our efforts.  Damn the torpedoes, it was to be full speed ahead.

And it was not simply Nuclear Fuel Services that now had everything on the line, the Empire State did as well.  The consequences of shutting this plant down came very close to the unthinkable.  It was by now nearly full of radioactive fuel rods that would take about, oh, …  say 20,000 years to cool down, and meanwhile someone would constantly have to bear the ongoing expense of maintaining this complex facility.  I, of course, was getting all this second hand as I was simply one of the workers in the structural crew.

Now several peculiar things added up to bend my career around significantly:  The first was that Willy Reasner, the structural group-leader on this project, had decided that he now wanted to go into project management, leaving Structural Engineering.  The next thing was that in the nuclear industry generally, and the Structural Engineering profession in particular, began to adopt true dynamic analysis, using computers.  Part of the reason was that this sort of analysis was becoming more dominant in the design of nuclear reactors themselves and for their associated piping.  So what had previously seemed so strange had, little by little, edged its way more into the mainstream of the profession.

Our chief engineer now realized that computer analysis was the only way to handle some of these problems properly.  But ordinary structural engineers doing the day to day work of designing buildings, bridges and railroads, whiz through dynamics in school and avoid it like plague afterwards—there were no computers generally being used when they went to school so dynamics was studied more from an analytical point of view, sans computers, and there is little practical dynamical analysis that can be done in this fashion.

What to do?  One might have thought that they would have hired someone with appropriate experience, but that is not the way of Engineering.  In this Brotherhood it is supposed that every engineer ought to be able to handle any sort of problem.  This mindset is similar to that of Medicine where, in principle, a doctor is a doctor is a doctor, and ought to be able to perform anything in medicine when necessary.  We all know, or should, that this is a fabrication, an appendix that still remains from the older secretive brotherhoods.  Either that or they still didn’t realize the difficulty of the problems at hand.  In either case I now became group leader for the project; I was the only one in the structural department that knew much of anything about computers.  The fact that I had no credentials was seemingly not a problem; I was, after all, working under the direction of a registered civil engineer.  That he had no knowledge whatsoever of what I was doing did not seem to be an insurmountable problem.

I had used STRUDL to analyze a number of steel and concrete structural elements and had gradually become familiar with the software during the time when we had the IBM 360-40.  In an ironic way the fact that I was still a novitiate in this Brotherhood was a benefit; I was not set in my ways, simply because I was too fresh and had not been through the rigors of a professional education.  Computers seemed fascinating to me rather than intimidating.  The thought of an engineer sitting at a keypunch machine doing “typing” gave real engineers the willies; typing was something that secretaries did, not registered engineers.

STRUDL was supposed to have features permitting one to analyze dynamic loads as well as static loads, but these features had not yet been implemented.  This software, after all, was being developed by a school (MIT) and its development was largely dependent upon its graduate students, an always fraught situation for the development of professional, reliable computer code.  Then yet another strange coincidence came into play: the company, McAuto, that we now used for computer services by using the computer terminal, was very familiar with dynamics for the peculiar, and unrelated, reason that they supported their sister division McDonnell Douglas Aircraft with computer services, and the structural design of airplanes consists to a large extent of working with dynamic forces.

McAuto had developed a proprietary program called DYNAL standing, of course, for dynamic analysis.  Not only that, they had one fellow on their support team that knew dynamics very well, and not only as it applied to airplanes.  Their computer software was fundamentally a very general finite element analysis program that could analyze the stresses in a structure from dynamic loadings, no matter how strangely it was shaped and no matter what type of loading was involved.

I once had an opportunity to see McAuto’s facility in St. Louis.  It was so large, and with so many computers and tape drives in it (the reigning permanent storage technology then), that they had developed a system in which young women roller-skated on demand to a designated tape drive to load a particular tape onto it when a program called for it—since skating was faster than walking—and probably more fun too.

Interestingly, the dominant opinion concerning delivering computing power in those days was that there probably would be only a few data centers worldwide.  Data could be transmitted long distances without loss—simply by using inexpensive repeaters when a signal began to fade.  In a strange way this anticipated the Internet with its great “server farms”, and may yet end being the most viable means of storing and distributing information and software programs.

As I began to study dynamics—again at Carnegie Library—I found that the books, while conveying the basics of dynamics: momentum, velocity, acceleration and mass, were somewhat dated—not that these basics ever change especially—but their presentation did not of course anticipate computers; it was simply theoretical.  Practical applications were strictly limited to ideal conditions, which unfortunately barely exist in real structures.  Only very simple structures, a single isolated beam for example, could be analyzed analytically, that is to say using differential equations.  In the books I was, in effect, learning what the engineers had learned when they had gone to school.  I was learning why they tried to avoid these analyses; the structures which we had to analyze were very complex, far beyond anything that could be analyzed in the way that the books indicated.

The DYNAL program was in many ways patterned on STRUDL.  It had in fact been written using the brand of FORTRAN that had been adopted by MIT for their Integrated Civil Engineering System.  This was fortunate as it speeded up my learning curve considerably.  But even more fortunate was the help of my new mentor whose name, I believe, was Bob—last name lost in the old memory bank.  In effect he gave me a crash tutorial over the telephone, not only concerning the program itself, which was his job, but on the nuances of dynamics itself, and it is safe to say that without his help my effort to learn dynamics would have taken a great deal longer.  He was always forthcoming, and expert; I found out later that he had a PhD, though he had never mentioned it.

In the Imperial Valley in the south of California, there is a city called EL Centro.  This city, in 1940, experienced one of the worst earthquakes ever thoroughly recorded by an accelerometer.  By Text Box:  
A short history of the EL Centro Earthquake
that time, in the design of nuclear power plants, the shakings of this particular quake, as recorded on magnetic tape over quite a protracted period of time, had become a classic.

At time-zero the earth was quiescent.  At time-zero plus one it accelerated to a certain G-force in a certain direction, at time-zero plus two seconds it had accelerated to a strong force, about 3/10 of a G (the acceleration of gravity) in that direction, and then quickly at about the same strength in the opposite direction.  And this went on and on for quite a period of time.  This will shake you up pretty good, and it did: buildings collapsed, roads sheared and all manner of havoc occurred.  All of this had been recorded in the form of what is called a histogram.  These complex alternating accelerations describe what is known as a forcing function: from the histogram one can determine the force on a structure at each moment of time.

This tape was freely available from the USGS, the United States Geological Survey.  Bob told me how to get it and explained the fine points of how to connect it into the DYNAL program, with which we had modeled certain critical features of the structures now standing calmly, waiting for action, out in the woods near West Valley.  With the DYNAL program we could now determine much more accurately the stresses in what were considered the critical parts of the structure.  It was as though we had subjected the structures in the woods in New York to the major earthquake that had so shaken Southern California.

But it wasn’t just that simple.  The Atomic Energy Commission now asked this question: What would happen if, while a cask, weighing many tons, was being unloaded from a truck, and had been hoisted to the top of its chain over the cask unloading pool, the chain broke, or the hoist failed, or something?  Well…  This was a problem that even DYNAL couldn’t handle.

Text Box:  
Shipping Cask being hoisted from a truck to be placed into the cask unloading pool
Back to Carnegie Library—but nothing.  Yet there was a bookstore associated with the University of Pittsburgh.  It had a book concerning numerical analysis using finite differences, which are, fundamentally, convergent numerical solutions for nearly any sort of differential equation that can be represented physically, and the book had an appendix that illustrated the sorts of FORTRAN programs that could be written to solve different types of these problems.

I spent a lot of hours with this book.  It was very well written.  Using it, and my newfound, though still fledgling, understanding of dynamics and of programming, I put together a computer modeling program in FORTRAN which, using an iterative method, provided the dynamic force of the cask as it hit the bottom concrete of the pool after the chain had broken:

Gravity accelerated the mass of the cask as it fell, hypothetically, through the air, but when it hit the water it would slow down due to the drag from the viscosity of the water (drag).  Finally, it would have struck the thick reinforced concrete floor of the pool with a certain momentum.  And once this force had been calculated, the pool itself and the soil beneath it, could then be modeled in DYNAL for this shock load.  It was shown that it would indeed survive without serious cracking, thus preventing radioactive water from leaching into the groundwater.

Since this analysis was considered critical for the licensing of the plant, and I was the only one who knew anything much about how the design had been made (although a Taiwanese PhD who worked for me had checked my work).  Now I was asked to go to Washington, DC, with the project manager, to explain the analysis to some subcommittee of the Atomic Energy Commission.

Testifying in front of this subcommittee was similar to testifying at one of those hearings that one sees on CSPAN in which the questioners, some in business suits, but here some in naval uniform too, sit on a raised dais, looking comfortable in elegant leather chairs.  They question the supplicants (us) seated at a comparatively rude table just in front and several feet below them.  I was not worried about explaining the process we had used; I knew I’d like the back of my hand.  But I was somewhat concerned that they might ask for my credentials of which I had none, none at all.  They didn’t.



he word “power” is often associated with comfort:  The comfort of a fire in the hearth, especially with a chicken skewered in its front, must have seemed irresistible to early man, yet when uncontained, that same power could burn the house down and, as history tells us repeatedly, it would occasionally incinerate the town around it as well.  There is something magical about new and powerful things and it takes considerable time before they can be made to seem normal.  Electricity had been like that,  and nuclear power is still like that.  And there is a tendency toward power in people as well, usually nefarious, as could easily be seen by the powerful figures arrayed against Nuclear Energy in Washington.

I must confess that now I too came to have a modest dose of a sense of power.  Our contract with Nuclear Fuel Services was what is called a cost-plus contract, which is to say that whatever cost we spent we were reimbursed for, and a fee was added by us on top of that.  The small computer terminal that we used to access the large computer center in St. Louis was now quite dominated by my Structural Group on this nuclear project, and the monthly charges we were incurring for these exotic computer analyses became very significant.  We were billing them these costs at a markup and of course we were billing our wages in the same fashion.  This was certainly the biggest moneymaking project in the company at the time.  Not only that, it embodied the hopes of the company to blaze a trail into this new and so promising field.

Little tendrils began to grow in my brain and then blossom powerfully there as it occurred to me that now Blaw-Knox simply could not do without me.  I had become indispensable to the project.  One day I told them I was planning to quit!  I had no other job, nor any prospects of one, not without being a registered engineer, or even having a degree.  Where this uncharacteristic impetus came from on my part I am not sure, but there is, it seems, even in the meekest of us, a will to power in the right circumstances, or perhaps it was simply my German ancestry infecting my brain chemistry, as it has been known previously to do in other circumstances.  In any case it now came to dominance.  I presented them with quite a quandary.  I didn’t know exactly what I wanted from them, and neither did they.  But I gave them two week’s notice anyway.  They put on their thinking caps.

They told me straight out that it would be impossible for me to become chief engineer of the Civil Department (Forest Williams would be retiring soon).  This position required registration, credentials.  And I didn’t want to go into project management, as Willy Reasner had done, because I quite liked working with computers.  The chief engineer said that he would talk to the higher-ups.  Fortunately, they figured out what I wanted.  They asked, “How would you like to run the computer department?”  I would.  And I was to be paid significantly more money as I would now be a department head.

There was only one problem.  The computer department was already headed by another man who oversaw what was termed Planning and Scheduling and I would have to take on both jobs.  I asked, “What about so and so?”, meaning the man now in charge of Scheduling.  “Oh” they said casually, “He seems to want to leave anyway.” Whether he wanted to leave, or whether they wanted him to want to leave, was left unsaid.  And I confess to not caring very much either way.

They brought Willy Reasner back to the Structural Department from the Project Management Department and I was to give him a crash course in what we were doing on the project and on computer dynamic analysis in general.  He was, of course, a very fast learner, and he would always have me (and Bob in St. Louis) to back him up when necessary.  Willy had not worked out well in Project Management—not the right temperament.  I confess to not caring very much about that either.

All this minor fluttering around changed my career in a substantial way and, as usual, not the way in which I had anticipated.  One ought to be careful what one wishes for, but I rarely was.  This sort of thing is, in a way, like war: it almost never goes the way one expects, but at least things happen, and that’s not always bad.

In a similar fashion, the pressure lows of the climatology of nuclear power were to continue to get stormier.  Eventually Getty Oil walked completely away from the project and handed the problem back to the State Of New York, which is certainly the entity involved that was, and is, most capable of political design, which was, and remains, the fundamental nature of the Nuclear Power Project.  This is where it lies still today, and nuclear power itself has now taken a hiatus, though the spent-fuel rods still keep building up, the problem seemingly intractable and never to go away.

Twenty percent of the Electric Power generated in the United States is currently supplied by nuclear power plants.  And that figure may now, ironically, be set to increase as it becomes increasingly clear that it is the only “green” source of electrical energy with viable economics.  And if electric cars become dominant, tremendously ratcheting up the need for electricity—not an impossibility—it seems rather silly to charge their batteries with electrical power generated from coal-fired power plants.